By Linda Kor
While Arizona youth may be cutting back on underage drinking and the use of prescription drugs to get high, they still rank at or near the top in a nationwide study in various drug-related activities. The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report ranked Arizona as having the nation’s highest rate of youth who binge drink (26.5 percent) and for high schoolers that were offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property (34.6 percent).
The report, published by the Center For Disease Control, also ranked Arizona second in the nation for teens who had ever used cocaine, those who currently used cocaine, those who tried marijuana for the first time before age 13, who currently drank alcohol and those who had consumed alcohol on school property.
Arizona’s youth also ranked highest in the nation for having feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and second in the nation for seriously considering attempting suicide.
The survey includes a sampling of information from students in grades ninth through 12th in each county, subareas of large counties, or groups of smaller, adjacent counties. The database includes information on both public and private schools and the most recent data from the Common Core of Data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Another survey released last year by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission’s Arizona Youth Survey showed that Arizona youth who had used alcohol at least once had dropped slightly to 35 percent, down from 36.5 percent in 2010 and that prescription pain reliever abuse fell from 17.6 percent to 13.8 percent. While state results sound encouraging, the overall message is that a large number of youth in the state are making, or being put in the position to make, dangerous choices.
Youth struggling with social, emotional, family or substance abuse problems often feel they have nowhere to turn for assistance but many schools, such as Holbrook High School now offer programs that can help.
Donna Campbell, the coordinator of the district’s Safe and Supportive Schools grant, is also a counselor for the Student Assistance Program funded by that grant. This is the second semester that the high school has offered programs to help students dealing with issues such as anger management, low self-esteem and motivation, grief and loss, family members who have addictions, and more. One program, Insight, addresses the issue of drug and/or alcohol abuse.
“Each program is for eight weeks and each week students in the program meet with their peers,” explained Campbell. “At each meeting students take a self-assessment of where they’re at then share their outcome with their peers. It helps the students to be more aware of their use and be accountable for themselves,” she said.
There have been 107 students enrolled in the programs this year, a higher number than was anticipated. “We took a recent anonymous survey and over 80 percent of those who entered into the Insight program said the class helped them to become more aware of their lifestyle and quit or decrease their use of drugs or alcohol,” stated Campbell.
Some of the students ask to take part in the programs, but a majority of the time it’s concerned teachers or family members who refer the students. If a student is caught with drugs or alcohol, or under the influence of either on campus participation in the program is mandatory or they will receive a 10-day suspension. “It provides a productive outcome to a problem situation. Each student who enrolls in the program must sign a contract to complete the course and the parents have to agree as well,” she explained.
Campbell has 10 teachers who have undergone the required three-day training to assist in the program and she hopes to have 10 more receive training for the next school year. “Going through the training is a real eye-opener. I haven’t had a teacher go through the program that wasn’t affected by what they learned,” stated Campbell.
Her goal with the programs is to help students build self-confidence and accountability, and to realize that they’re not alone as they struggle through difficult issues that they are hoping to overcome.
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By Linda Kor